May 192013

Details is an image-heavy feature in which I discuss accessories I’ve created or purchased and how they fit the overall vision of a character. 

One of the things that stood out to me last year was when we met a guy with an awesome costume and he handed us a calling card so we could find him again. Calling cards are the predecessors to modern business cards; while they are not meant to contain information about your business, I figure tucking the blog’s address on the back would be a great way to ensure any new friends we make can find us again. To that end, I designed a calling card for each character that will be portrayed at the Empire Symposium and had them printed on cardstock.

Business Cards

Four business cards, front

While it’s not really good manners to put your employment on a callling card, Lucas can’t resist; so much of his identity is tied up in the running of Warren Industries that it’s become almost like a title. Still, in a nod to convention, he’s put the company name in much smaller font so it doesn’t take too much emphasis away from his name.

Ricky, by contrast, is very no-nonsense. He put a small, subdued flair above his name, but he elected for block-printed cards off a newfangled printing press rather than the more classic hand-engraved cards, and his military rank is displayed prominently  as that was perfectly acceptable to put on a card.

Erika’s card is the most elaborate; as an unmarried woman, her card size is smaller, which makes it seem a bit crowded in comparison. She spared no expense promoting herself as both elegant and ladylike as well as mechanically-inclined, as though there were no contradiction inherent in her dual identity, and she managed to pull it off well, I think.

Bob doesn’t do frills. Or frippery. Or borders. He has his name, his profession, and a hat. So what if it’s not done to advertise yourself so blatantly? He doesn’t care.

Cards with Holder

The reverse side of Kendandra’s card, propped in front of a holder

The reverse of each card is the meta-side; it contains out-of-character contact information, including a link to this very blog. This is the practical side; we hand these out anywhere we go in costume, so it needed to have actual contact information in case people want to find us again. Or I suppose you could collect them like baseball cards?

The cardholders were a lucky dollar-store find Chaos made a few days before the Empire Symposium.

Bob Card

Bob’s card again, with the envelope he uses to carry them

Originally I planned to make a custom holder for each character; however, as time grew short, this was the only holder that got made. Bob wouldn’t bother with a leather card holder, instead going for an old envelope he had lying around. The envelope was fairly fun to age; we used some underflavored teabags we bought a while back and weren’t fond of, brewing 2 of them in minimal water then saturating an envelope with the tea. We let it soak for a while, then poured off the excess tea and baked until dry. Voila, aged envelope, just add crinkles.

May 122013

Details is an image-heavy feature in which I discuss accessories I’ve created or purchased and how they fit the overall vision of a character. 

Good morning! Let’s talk about Erika, shall we? Erika’s a mechanic, so her accessories are less frills-and-lace and more about practicality. Due to the natures of our outfits, I tend to be the one hanging onto various amounts of stuff that we pick up, so I wanted a lot of places to store things. In addition, there are several purely-decorative items I pulled together to give the overall look of someone who lives for their work. Let’s get started:

Erika- Goggle Display

Metallic brass/bronze goggles on a blue kerchief.

 Goggles here are practical; Erika works with a lot of welding and so forth that might require eye protection. These were a fairly standard, cheap pair I bought on amazon, then pulled apart, spray-painted, and fit back together. I keep meaning to find a steamier strap for them, but until then, it holds them on my head (where I wear them; while you can see through them okay, I don’t like wearing them on my eyes) and isn’t too obtrusive.

The kerchief was $1 at Joanne fabrics. I bought several, and several more at dollar stores since. My hair is ridiculously frizzy, so it’s nice not to have to worry about it for once.

Erika- Pouches

Belt pouches, a pair of folded pliers, and a compass.

I bought these belt pouches (and a belt that matched, which I promptly discarded) cheap on Amazon as well. They were marketed as “steampunk” and, like many mass-produced steampunk accessories, are hideously cheap and tacky. They seem to be made of plastic. Still, I can put things in them, and they button closed, so they work for now, but I keep meaning to make pouches myself that will look and feel nicer.

Erika- Belt

Close-up of the belt, pliers, and compass

The colors seem a bit off here; those greenish tints in the belt aren’t so bright in reality, making it look more like worn leather than anything else. The belt was a nice find at a dollar store; it’s reversible, with the side I like to wear outwards being a soft, worn leather look, while the other is a smart black. The other accessories were also cheap on amazon. You can find a lot of trinkets on amazon if you look. These all are unmodified.

Erika- Bag and Gun

Closeup of backpack and raygun

These are newer; the backpack is unmodified, a nice find I spent the better part of a week hunting for online. The raygun is a squirt gun; Chaos wants to modify it further, but for now it’s had a little bit of brass spraypaint and some detailing on the water-container (hidden in this picture; the first coat of spraypaint flaked miserably, but it’s been redone since then in silver with touches of gold for an aged patina look since then).

May 052013

Erika is…. hmm.

I have two characters named Erika. They were meant to be the same character, but the first one went far to one extreme and so I made the second rendition so different they  no longer feel like the same character. The second Erika is the canonical one; the first character happens to be using her name. The first character is an alien shapeshifter, so she’s used a lot of names.

The first Erika was, however, paired closely with Lucas. Lucas being a villain, I wanted to give him a sidekick as awful as he was, so that they’d basically deserve each other. She was of a race nicknamed “Cuckoo” for their ability to change shape and blend into an adopted society. They mate for life; Erika in particular is an Obsessive-type yandere who has fixated on Lucas to the point where she’s impersonating him to “help” run his business and killing staff members who displeased him. That’s a bit much for any other game, so rest assured, Erika Stark is not like that.

The second Erika was made for a much more lighthearted game, and this time, was not meant to be a villain. Chaos had a character who was a Chaos Mage, and so I made him a hapless lab assistant who he could comically abuse (If you’re a fan of EGS, something like Amanda). I needed a reason for her to be desperate, so I had her flunking out of her graduate studies at the magical university and therefore needing the credit she’d get for being his assistant. The game didn’t go much of anywhere, but their scenes were fun.

The third Erika was for the New World of Darkness game that Radiant Vanguard plays. Erika Smith was a grad student who was flunking engineering, so she took some lab credits to raise her GPA so she didn’t get dropped from the program. She ended up under a Genius who took her on under the hopes that she’d become a Beholden, which Geniuses use as sort of brainwashed lab assistants. Instead, she awakened as a proper Genius. She was at the beginning of her career, half-trained, dependent on her grouchy unhelpful Mentor for most plot-based exposition, and generally a little ditzy. The other two characters, both Hunters, rapidly ceased to trust her assessment of the situation.

We lost our first adventure into the unknown. The three slunk out of New York and changed their names, forged and shaped by their failure in some way. For Erika, a showdown with her Mentor had occurred as a result of a near-breakdown; now, she’s more determined than ever to prove her worth as a real Genius, not just a Beholden or a dropout screwup, but someone who can create great and wonderful things. To that end, she named herself after Tony Stark.

Which brings us to Steampunk Erika. Her backstory involves her father being a genius (no capitals this time) inventor and her having inherited his intelligence and aptitude for science but being often disregarded due to being a “silly girl”.  She walks a thin line between being fashionable and rejecting her place in the world, between being an inventor and being feminine. I try to have her outfits reflect that to some degree: they’re not just practical, but also somewhat stylish. She’s not rejecting her femininity, after all, only the idea that she’s weak or useless or just for decoration.

Mar 282013

Kendandra here!

Let’s talk a bit about percussion.

Percussion is the lifeblood of any musical piece.  One of the ways I want to make each of these character themes unique is to make sure they have vastly different percussion sections.  For Lucas’s theme, that’s as simple as making it a waltz.  The ¾ time signature gives it a much different feel than the rest of the themes regardless of what instruments I use.  For Richard’s theme I’m using a snare-heavy marching beat.  This fits his military nature and, again, keeps his theme unique in feel.  I’m a bit antsy to do Bob’s theme; it doesn’t use drums at all and instead relies of the percussive nature of a rhythm guitar, which I think will be quite a challenge and a reward.  As is the purpose of these blogs, I will explain why I’ve chosen each style for each character in turn.


But today we’re going to talk specifically about Erika’s theme.


Erika Stark is the engineer of the group.  A position that could arguably be called the most steampunk of the whole quad.  When she’s at her best, she’s right in the thick of all that hissing, clanking, and metal squealing.  So it should only be fitting that the underlying percussive track of her theme should be the sounds of a steam-powered machine whirling and sputtering away.  I know Yami will hate me mentioning this (and that’s half the reason I am [remember, Sarcastic Jackass]) but it’s very much the same idea as the Flimflam Brothers’ cider machine huffing and puffing in the background of their song.  (Check it out if you are curious.  WARNING:  CONTAINS PONY.)

I now imagine either I have lost all my readers or gained an unfathomable amount by uttering that four letter word.  Let’s not dwell on it.

Anyway.  I started exploring Fruityloops’s options for percussion.  And let me tell you.  Illidan was right.  I WAS NOT PREPARED.


Button, button, who's got the button?

Anyone ever watch Dexter’s Lab in the 90’s? I felt a bit like DeeDee “Ohhh what does this button do?”

The sad part is, this is like just one of the many drum mixers that are built in to this thing.  And get this, there are more complex ones with even more options.  I mean, damn.  I actually used one of the simpler ones; one that’s actually just that orange section in the middle.  Still though when I was messing around with the presets a found a list of “Industrial mixes” that contained sounds of anvils clashing and clocks ticking.  And that meant one thing.  Jackpot.  What I was envisioning for Erika’s theme was not only possible but probably ready to implement without downloading additional soundfonts or configurations.  Something I’m very happy about.

So now down to hard part.  I had an idea of what I wanted the percussion section to sound like, now it was time to actually create it.

First I wanted to find the sound of steam hissing.  That’s going to be a cymbal crash of some kind, but the question is, how to make it?  Fortunately there were several presets in the Drumpad.  I listened to dozens of sounds trying to find Erika’s steam piston.  Including one called “Epic Crash 01” which sadly was not as epic as I had hoped.  I finally settled on “Trash Crash 01” out of the sample sounds.  It had a long decay on it, giving it a very piston-y feel, but sadly not quite what I wanted.  I upped the Mallet Decay and Mallet Amplitude to give it a nice hiss before I was satisfied.  This hiss plays every measure on the down beat.  Next I added a muted popping sound that when put together with the Steam Hiss gives a beat that sounds a lot like an old steam train.  Exactly what I wanted.

Now that I had an actual beat, I decided to layer some more engine-like parts on there.  To, you know, really dive the point home that I wanted a machine sound.  I ended up with something like this:

Bum-tsh! Bum-tsh!

Look at all the drums I give!  Ignore the Cello and Guitar Pluck, those are part of the proto-melody in a different sequence part.

Simplistic, but I think it works well.

Finally I messed with the panning of a few of the channels.  (You can see it on the picture if you squint hard enough).  Now steam hisses in each ear in an alternating pattern.  It was at this point I made an amazing discovery.  Scientists will write papers about it for centuries I’m sure:  my head phones were on backwards.  I think the panning changes really add an extra dimension to the beat.

You can hear the final machine beat here: ErikaEngineBeat

Now I’m certain I won’t use the same beat for the entire song… unless I get lazy.  Yeah.  I’m probably going to use the same beat for the entire song.  But still, it’s surprisingly catchy when you listen to it eight million times on loop.

That’s all for now, kiddos.  Next time I’m going to cover the melody for Richard’s theme and delve a bit into each theme’s core sound.  Right now, I need to figure out what this hissing noise is in my ear….

–Kendandra, we’re done here.

Mar 092013

The following post was originally posted on Yamikuronue’s blog Raven Wings on Feb 12, 2012. It is highly out of date, but contains interesting information. 

Let’s talk about Steampunk.

One of the things I enjoyed most when studying Theater was costume design and creation. I did almost all my practicum work in the costume shop, and picked up a lot of technique and even more ideas. I’ve been doing thrifty cosplay for years; only recently, however, have I had the means and the time to start working on costumes I’ve been designing in my head for years. So, naturally, I’m diving headfirst into steampunk.

This costume trio is based off 1840s fashion (I find when doing historically-based costumes it helps to have a specific decade in mind as a basis, even though I’m dealing with an alternate future setting for this specific design). I’ve designed their outfits off a specific adventure in their lives, one that brings these three disparate people together in much the same way as a roleplaying campaign would bring PCs together: one part chance to two parts “fate” (aka player fiat).

When I make costumes, however, it activates the same parts of my brain that have had years of practice making characters, both for roleplay and for creative writing. Therefore, I almost can’t help but ascribe personality and lives to the characters being portrayed, as though there was going to be a whole performance rather than just a costume. So I figure, what better place to showcase the backstories than my blog?

I’ll put up more pictures as I complete the costumes.

Sir Lucas Warren was born in London, the son of a highly wealthy entrepreneur whose early and wise investments in shipping and exported goods helped him rise from poverty in the Cape Colony to wealth, though not prestige, in the British Empire. His mother was a noblewoman who taught him to compensate for his dark skin with impeccable manners and a ruthless ambition for business. With the discovery of gold in the American Colonies, he was in a ripe position to expand his shipping business even further, hoping it would someday become the equal of the famed East India Company. However, a number of violent uprisings by those pesky Seperationists, still bitter about their country’s failed revolution, have recently disrupted his profits. Knowing that the best way to understand a problem is to see it firsthand, and with a taste for adventure inherited from his father, Lucas boarded an airship and headed for the Western Coast.

Costume notes: Lucas is a gentleman, upstanding, with fine clothing and even finer goods. Bright colors and dandy influences would show off his vanity and ego, while not stepping too far outside the bounds of polite society. I’m toying with the idea of adding an accident resulting in a replacement hand to give him something extra to compensate for and myself some cool design ideas.

Erika Smith is an engineer under the employ of Warren. She lives for her work; even when not on the job, she’s constantly coming up with ideas and sketching out blueprints. Warren snatched her up years ago in the hopes that she could improve the efficiency of his airships, and while she’s done well with that, she’s also invented some pretty nifty gadgets along the way. When Warren needed to ensure that his particular airship would not be sabotaged or suffer from malfunctions with him on it, he refused to settle for less than his best engineer at his side. Constantly.

Costume notes: This one’s proving to be a real challenge for me because most 1840s costume references focus on the upper-crust, white-collar or gentleman. What did working-class people wear? Depends on the job. What did engineers wear? Bloody hell if I know. My original design has overalls, but I suspect cotton pants with suspenders would be more period-appropriate. The costume itself will likely be fairly plain, but I get to go crazy with gadgets, goggles, and other accessories.

Robert Lee Owens doesn’t work for Mr Warren. Point of fact, he doesn’t work for anyone but himself. He’s a hired gun, plain and simple; one of the best, plus he knows the territory real well. He spends most of his income on his guns. He likes guns. He likes guns real fine. Warren hired him as a bodyguard, so for the moment he’s dedicated to the man’s survival; after this, someone else could hire him to kill Warren and he’d do it without a second thought. For the moment, though, the man’s safe: Bob never breaks a contract. That just wouldn’t be sporting.

Costume notes: This is where the American influence comes in. Bob’s a steampunk cowboy/gunslinger, with high-tech weapons being the main futuristic influence on these designs. My initial build for him let me down severely, however, as it turned out the coat I ordered was simply horrendous. I might end up making one myself rather than fall for misleading catalog images again; it’d be a lot of work, especially given I only have weekends to do it in, but it might be worth it.

This is the first take on the costumes; they’re still a work in progress, as I don’t have all the pieces I wanted. We wore these at Ohayoucon 2012 😀 I plan to improve them for the Steampunk Empire Symposium in April.

Image of the Lucas costume

Image of Erika costume

Image of the Bob costume